As time rolls on, the more I realize what a treasure kung fu is in my life. Not that I’ve never recognized that before, but in these recent months of traveling hard and juggling multiple projects and deadlines, I realize that my daily martial arts practice is the secret to pulling it all off. The discipline required of kung fu feeds into the discipline required of the writer, I have said that before, have been quoted on it. But reflecting on it this morning, it’s more than just that. Just as I make sure my phone and iPad are charged for the day, I find that I must charge my internal battery with the daily practice of martial arts.
Sifu Makaris once said to me, “you only know as much kung fu as you are able to practice when you wake up on any given day.” It is true. Just as you can only be fluent in a language if you are speaking it routinely and maintaining that fluency, you are not a black belt – in my opinion – if you are not maintaining your tool kit and your practice, and keeping your blade edge sharp. And not just in a physical sense.
Just before sunrise, I go to whatever kung fu garden’ I can find, whether it be a park in Beijing, a hotel room in London, a desert in Arizona, or, like recently, a roof top in Venice overlooking the Grand Canal. Have dojo will travel.
These days the practice includes the all-important zazen or seated meditation, qigong exercises, a lot of stretching (and at my age that’s critical), tai chi, Wing Chun forms and drills, and the Northern Shaolin forms that are the cornerstone of my personal program. After forms, I always take one sequence from one set and practice that independently of the form-breaking it down and internalizing it. After more stretching, I then do what I call “going from classical to free-form jazz.” After working on the raw materials, kind of like practicing scales and theory, I like to riff on the processed goods: the combat system and philosophy that Bruce Lee called Jeet Kune Do. “Free yourself, Baby,” as Bruce would say. “Hack away at the unessentials.”
“Art is the expression of the self,” Lee said. “The more complicated and restricted the method, the less the opportunity for expression of one’s original sense of freedom. Be water, my friend.”
45 minutes of JKD footwork and strikes provides the true cardio component of my morning practice, closing it out with more meditation . Only then does the blade feel sharp, the battery charged, and the wild horse lunged. Very little can rock my boat after that. But when I miss a few days, I know it. People close to me know it. Just as an opponent might know it. So I am grateful for the treasure of this art that takes up no space in my suitcase and travels with me at all times. I do miss my 400 pound Hammond B-3, and my horses – things that don’t pack lightly. But one pair of kung fu pants and bare feet are my survival kit. Good to go.
On that note, the sun is about to rise here in Johor Bahru. Jungle birds are singing Jurassic Park-like songs. I have found a quiet place in a bamboo grove and I even have a new training partner. A stray dog who showed up on my first day of practice and barked incessantly every time I did the Mantis stance (he didn’t like that one bit). But now he shows up every day and sits and watches. I call the homeless fellow Monk Dog and he is fairly malnourished. I will bring him food today, but I guess that means I might also now have a new roommate.
Have a great day. Be water. Be well.